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Every year, on December 10, UN Human Rights Day commemorates the day in 1948 on which the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Although the Declaration itself said nothing about the death penalty, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) that incorporated its values in 1966 made it clear in Article 6(6) that ‘nothing … should be invoked to delay or to prevent the abolition of capital punishment by any State Party to the … Covenant,’ which now has been ratified by all but a handful of nations.
Today, we pause to consider the considerable changes that have taken place in the use of capital punishment around the world over the past quarter of a century, changes which have shifted our pessimism – believing that in many regions of the world there was little hope of worldwide abolition occurring soon – towards increasing optimism. Since the end of 1988, the number of actively retentionist countries (by which we mean countries that have carried out judicial executions in the past 10 years) has declined from 101 to 39, while the number that has completely abolished the death penalty has almost trebled from 35 to 99; a further seven are abolitionist for all ordinary crimes and 33 are regarded as abolitionist in practice: 139 in all. In 2013 only 22 countries were known to have carried out an execution and the number that regularly executes a substantial number of its citizens has dwindled. Only seven nations executed an average of 20 people or more over the five year period from 2009 to 2013: China (by far the largest number), Iran (the highest per head of population), Iraq, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and Yemen. The change has been truly remarkable. Indeed, we have witnessed and recorded a revolution in the discourse on and practice of capital punishment since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
We have witnessed and recorded a revolution in the discourse on and practice of capital punishment since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
This year’s Human Rights Day slogan – Human Rights 365 – encompasses the idea that every day is Human Rights Day. It celebrates the fundamental proposition in the Universal Declaration that each one of us, everywhere, at all times is entitled to the full range of human rights, that human rights belong equally to each of us and bind us together as a global community with the same ideals and values. What better day then to reflect on the dynamo for this new wave of abolition – the development of international human rights law and norms.
Arising in the aftermath of the Second World War and linked to the emergence of countries from totalitarian imperialism and colonialism, the acceptance of international human rights principles transformed consideration of capital punishment from an issue to be decided solely or mainly as an aspect of national criminal justice policy to the status of a fundamental violation of human rights: not only the right to not to be arbitrarily deprived of life but the right to be free from cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment or treatment. The idea that each nation has the sovereign right to retain the death penalty as a repressive tool of its domestic criminal justice system on the grounds of its purported deterrent utility or the cultural preferences and expectations of its citizens was being replaced by a growing acceptance that countries that retain the death penalty – however they administer it – inevitably violate universally accepted human rights.
The human rights dynamic has not only resulted in fewer countries retaining the death penalty on their books, but also in the declining use of the ultimate penalty in many of those countries. Since the introduction of Safeguards Guaranteeing Protection of the Rights of those Facing the Death Penalty, which were first promulgated by the UN Economic and Social Council resolution 1984/50 and adopted by the General Assembly 30 years ago, there have been attempts to progressively restrict the use of capital punishment to the most heinous offences and the most culpable offenders and various measures to try to ensure that the death penalty is only applied where and when defendants have had access to a fair and safe criminal process. Hence, in many retentionist countries juveniles, the mentally ill, and the learning disabled are exempt from capital punishment, and some countries restrict the death penalty to culpable homicide.
There has been some strong resistance to the political movement to force change ever since the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1989. Attempts by the abolitionist nations at United Nations Congresses, in the General Assembly, beginning in 1994, and at the Commission on Human Rights, annually from 1997, to press for a resolution calling for a moratorium on the imposition of death sentences and executions met with hostility from many of the retentionist nations. By 2005, when an attempt had been made at the Commission on Human Rights to secure sufficient support to bring such a resolution before the United Nations, it had been opposed by 66 countries on the grounds that there was no international consensus that capital punishment should be abolished. Since then, as the resolution has been successfully brought before the General Assembly, the opposition has weakened as each subsequent vote was taken in 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2012, when 111 countries (60 per cent) voted in favour and 41 against. Just three weeks ago, 114 of the UN’s 193 member states voted in favour of the resolution which will go before the General Assembly Plenary for final adoption this month. The notion behind Human Rights 365 – that we are a part of a global community of shared values – is reflected in this increasing support for a worldwide moratorium as a further step towards worldwide abolition. We encourage all those who believe in human rights to continue working towards this ideal.
Children have become heavy new media users. Empirical data shows that a number of children accessing the internet – contrary to the age of users – is constantly increasing. It is estimated that about 60% of European children are daily or almost daily internet users, and therefore, by many they are considered to be “digital natives”.
However, in our view, the use of this “digital natives” concept is misleading and poorly founded, and is based on the assumption that children are quick to pick up new technologies. A recent EU Kids Online study invalidates this assumption. The study shows that even though children actively surf on various online applications, they lack digital skills such as bookmarking a website, blocking unwanted communications, and changing privacy settings on social networking sites. Many children are not capable of critically evaluating information and changing filter preferences.Interestingly, the lack of skills to perform specific tasks while being online does not impinge on children’s beliefs in their abilities – 43% of surveyed children believe to know more about the internet than their parents. At the moment, no correlation between this proclaimed self-confidence and their actual understanding of how internet works can be done due to the lack of data. Nevertheless, it is worth questioning whether, and to what extent, it is reasonable to expect that children understand the implications of their behaviour and what measures could mitigate children’s online risks in the most efficient and effective way.
It is probably closer to the truth to say that, in terms of privacy and data protection awareness, children are anything but “digital natives”.
Indeed, children’s actions online are being recorded, commercialised and serve for the purposes of behavioural advertising without them actually realising. This media illiteracy is tackled by awareness raising campaigns and policy measures on domestic and EU levels. However, it seems that these measures only partially address the challenges posed by children’s online engagement.
The European Commission (EC) seems to be in favour of legislative measures providing for a stronger legal protection of children’s personal data in the online environment. In Article 8 of the proposal for the General Data Protection Regulation, the EC introduces verifiable parental (or custodian) consent that would serve as a means of legitimising the processing of a child’s personal data on the internet.
Article 8 of the proposal foresees that parental consent would be required in cases where the processing operations entail personal data of children under the age of 13. The age of 13 would be the bright-line from which the processing of children’s personal data would be subjected to fewer legal constraints.
In practice, this would divide all children into two groups; children that are capable to consent (i.e. 13-18 year olds) to the processing of their personal data and children that are dependent on parental approval of their online choices (i.e. 0-13 year olds). Drawing such a strict line opposes the stages of physical and social development. Also, it requires the reconsideration of the general positive perception of the proposed parental consent from a legal point of view. In particular, it is necessary to evaluate whether the proposed measure is proportionate and whether it coincides with the human rights framework.
In a recent article published in the International Data Privacy Law Journal, we have analysed the proposal to distinguish between children younger and older than 13 years and found many practical and principled objections. Apart from the practical objections, which are often self-evident (e.g. what about the protection of children in the age group from 13 to 18 year old? How to ensure the enforcement of the proposed parental consent?), there are several fundamental problems with the proposed 13 years-rule.
The bright-line rule, which would require data controllers to obtain parental consent before processing personal data of children aged under 13, seems to be incompatible with the notion of evolving capacities. The proposed measure is based on the assumption that from the age of 13 all children are able to provide an independent consent for the processing of their personal data in the online environment. The proposed Article 8 ignores the fact that every child develops at a different pace and that the introduction of parental consent does not ensure more guidance regarding online data processing. We also regret that Article 8 in its current form doesn’t foresee a way in which children could express their own views regarding the data processing operation; the responsibility to consent would rest exclusively with a parent or a legal guardian. This set-up opposes the idea of children’s participation in the decision-making process that concerns them, an idea anchored in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and that is recognised by both the EU and its Member States.
Finally, our analysis suggests that children’s rights to freedom of expression and privacy may be undermined, if the proposed parental consent is introduced. As a result of Article 8, children’s access to information could become limited and dependent on parents. Also, the scope of their right to privacy would shrink as parents would be required to intervene in children’s private spaces (e.g. gaming accounts) to make informed choices. Therefore, it can be observed that the introduction of parental consent contradicts the key principles of human rights law enshrined in the UNCRC.
Featured image credit: Student on iPod at school. Photo by Brad Flickinger. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr.
Today, 11th October, the first ever International Day of the Girl and the focus this year is on child marriage. I got to spend some of the day with Loreto Beaufort in Dublin with 100 First Years. What a treat that was. They were interested, asked loads of questions and were, one and all, perfectly charming and courteous.
A big thank you to the librarian Joan for organising this and I look forward to getting feedback from some of the girls who have read the book. It seems like a great school – in this week alone they have a focus on D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Read) time, on Harry Potter and the Loreto School in Rumbek Sudan.
496 million. That’s how many women in the world can’t read or write even the most simple sentence. Many women never have the opportunity to reach 6th grade, and some don’t get to go to school at all.
Today, we join citizens around the world in celebrating International Women’s Day, and I want to share the stories of Dinah Mwangi and Katie Hendricks, two special women whose lives exemplify the theme of this year’s celebration, “Equality for Women is Progress for All.”
Dinah makes progress for all in Nairobi, Kenya. While waiting in line at a carwash, Dinah noticed two young boys straining to see what she was reading – a children’s book she had purchased for her niece. When she asked if they would like to join her, the boys lit up.
They read, and laughed and shared stories with Dinah. Then they told her they had no books of their own.
Dinah started buying books with her own salary and recruited volunteers to read and distribute them to kids each Saturday. In less than three months, she had over 500 kids participating. Now she’s pursuing relationships with Kenyan publishers, corporations and funders in order to expand her reach and deepen her impact.
On the other side of the world, Katie makes progress for all by helping girls from low-income families in California’s East Bay bridge the gap between school and home.
As a young teacher, Katie yearned to improve all aspects of her students’ lives, inside and outside the classroom. Her holistic approach led her to create Girls Inc. of Alameda County, a program that inspires girls to be strong, smart and bold. Katie and her team reinforce what their girls learn at school, help them become fluent English speakers, provide them with healthy meals and expose them to subjects girls aren’t always encouraged to study, like science, technology and athletics.
By improving the lives of girls in California’s East Bay, Katie also improves the lives of their family members, teachers, friends and classmates.
Dinah and Katie represent what’s possible when women have the education, resources and motivation to make progress for all. Their immediate impact on the kids they serve is immense. Equally powerful, however, is how their spirit and service ripple through entire communities, transform lives and change the future.
In addition to celebrating heroic women like Dinah and Katie, I invite you to join me in recommitting ourselves to becoming a powerful force for equality.
The gender gap has closed significantly over the past few decades, but we still have a long way to go. In some countries, less than a quarter of women finish primary school; 496 million women around the world cannot read or write a simple sentence; and globally, women only reach 93 percent of men’s educational attainment.
I believe the path to equality is through access to quality education. That’s why First Book is equipping educators like Dinah and Katie with brand-new books and resources for the kids they serve, expanding our network to reach women and girls around the globe and lifting up the voices of an unprecedented community of individuals serving children at the base of the economic pyramid.
In 1958, Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., the US ambassador to the United Nations, summarized the role of the world organization: “The primary, the fundamental, the essential purpose of the United Nations is to keep peace. Everything which does not further that goal, either directly or indirectly, is at best superfluous.” Some 30 years later another ambassador expressed a different view. “In the developing countries the United Nations… means environmental sanitation, agricultural production, telecommunications, the fight against illiteracy, the great struggle against poverty, ignorance and disease,” remarked Miguel Albornoz of Ecuador in 1985.
These two citations sum up the basic dilemma of the United Nations. It has always been burdened by high expectations: to keep peace, fix economic injustices, improve educational standards and combat various epidemics and pandemics. But inflated hopes have been tempered by harsh realities. There may not have been a World War III but neither has there been a day’s worth of peace on this quarrelsome globe since 1945. Despite all the efforts of the various UN Agencies (such as the United Nations Development Programme) and related organizations (like the World Bank), there exists a ‘bottom billion’ that survives on less than one dollar a day. The average lifespan in some countries barely exceeds thirty. According to UNESCO 774 million adults around the world lacked basic literacy skills in 2011.
Given such a seemingly dismal record, it is worth asking whether the UN has outlived its usefulness. After all, the organization turns 69 today (October 24th, 2014), a time when many citizens in the industrialized world exchange the stress of daily jobs for leisurely early retirement. Has the UN not had enough of a chance to keep peace and fix the world’s problems? Isn’t the obvious conclusion that the organization is a failure and the earlier it is scrapped the better?
The answer is no. The UN may not have made the world a perfect place but it has improved it immensely. The UN provides no definite guarantees of peace but it has been – and remains – instrumental for pacifying conflicts and enabling mediation between adversaries. Its humanitarian work is indispensable and saves lives every day. In simple terms: if the UN – or the various subsidiary organization that make up the UN – suddenly disappeared, lives would be lost and livelihoods would be endangered.
In fact, the real question is not whether the UN has outlived its usefulness, but how can the UN perform better in addressing the many tasks it has been charged with?
The answer is twofold. First, the UN needs to be empowered to do what it does best. Today, for example, one of the most pressing global challenges is the potential spread of the Ebola virus. Driven by irrational fear, politicians in a number of countries suggest closing borders in order to safeguard their populations. But the only realistic way of addressing a virus that does not know national borders is surely international collaboration. In practical terms this means additional support for the World Health Organization (WHO), the only truly global organization equipped to deal with infectious diseases. But the WHO, much like the UN itself, is essentially a shoestring operation with a global mandate. Its budget in 2013 was just under 4 billion dollars. The US military spent that amount of money in two days.
Second, the UN must become better at ‘selling’ itself. Too much of what the UN and its specialized agencies do around the world is simply covered in fog. What about child survival and development (UNESCO)? Environmental protection (UNEP) and alleviation of poverty (UNDP)? Peaceful uses of atomic energy (IAEA)? Why do we hear so little about the UN’s (or the International Labour Organization’s) role in improving workers’ rights? Does anyone know that the UNHCR has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize twice (out of a total of 11 Nobel Peace Prizes awarded to the UN, its specialized agencies, related agencies, and staff)? It’s not a bad CV!
We tend to hear, ad nauseam, that the 21st century is a globalized one, filled with global problems but apparently lacking in global solutions. What we tend to forget is the simple fact that there exists an organization that has been addressing such global challenges – with limited resources and without fanfare – for almost seven decades.
Indeed, it seems that in today’s world the UN is more relevant than ever before. At 69 it is certainly not ripe for retirement.
Featured image credit: United Nations Flags, by Tom Page. CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
David L. Bosco is Assistant Professor in the School of International Service at American University. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he is a former Senior Editor at Foreign Policy and has been a political analyst and journalist in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and a deputy director of a joint United Nations – NATO project in Sarajevo. His most recent book, Five To Rule Them All: The UN Security Council and the Making of The Modern World, tells the inside story of this remarkable diplomatic creation, illuminating the role of the Security Council in the postwar world, and making a compelling case for its enduring importance. In the original post below, Bosco reflects on Obama’s speech to the UN General Assembly today.
President Obama accomplished some important objectives in his speech to the UN General Assembly today. He emphasized how much has already changed under his administration, mentioning torture, Guantanamo, climate change, and Iraq in particular. But he also tried to to call the broader UN membership to task for what he called “reflexive anti-Americanism” and a tendency to always point at others when discussing international problems. As has often been the case internationally, the president is trying to both acknowledge American missteps but also convince the world to follow its lead.
Obama did some finger-pointing of his own. He identified Iran and North Korea as threats that might take the world down “a dangerous slope” of regional arms races and unchecked nuclear proliferation. He demanded that these countries face consequences if they continue to ignore the Security Council. But the language here was much more tempered than that used by President Bush in 2002 when he was trying to rally the world to confront Iraq. He did not even hint that the U.S. might work around the UN if that becomes necessary.
One notable absence in his speech: he did not mention reform of the Security Council, which has been a staple of other speeches at the General Assembly, particularly from developing world leaders. In general, the Obama administration has been quiet about the question of whether and how the Council should be expanded. It will be interesting to see whether he mentions the subject tomorrow, when he chairs a Council meeting on nonproliferation.
Back on earth again, we switch gears to a story with a modern day setting that seems it could be straight out of today’s news…except the humanitarian aid workers aren’t quite what they seem to be. Parents should be advised that one of the themes to the plot is the abuse of very human-like female droids as sex slaves.
Tin Servants by J. Sherer
Editor’s comment: “He’d (the author) read a lot of stories about robots trying to act human, but humans acting as robots?”
This is a solid, fast-paced action drama set in Ghana nearly 50 years from now. The trauma and tragedy of a war-torn African nation, as well as risk to the protagonist, are realistically told almost as if we were watching an award-winning film. The beauty to reading stories instead of watching them in film is that the reader has the benefit of the character’s self-talk. We sense Paul’s, a/k/a TK-19’s, yearning to help the refugees with every cell in his body. Or at least the ones that are still human…
Don’t miss out. Pick up a copy of Infinite Space, Infinite God II at Amazon http://ow.ly/4F48e .
(J Sherer lives in Southern California and works as a marketing supervisor for a large credit union. When he’s not writing, he enjoys playing sports, catching up on his favorite stories, and working with others on business strategies and tactics. His blog, Constructing Stories (www.jsherer.com), is a place where writers of all levels can engage in meaningful dialogue about the writing and storytelling process. He also partners with Nathan Scheck to present a free online science fiction adventure experience called Time Slingers (www.timeslingers.com). J Sherer’s past publication credits include Infinite Space, Infinite God; Dragons, Knights, and Angels Magazine; and the West Wind.)
International responsiveness to the food crisis in the Horn of Africa has relied again on the art of managing the headlines. Sophisticated early warning systems that foresee the onset of famine have been in place for years, but still the world waits until it is very nearly too late before taking real action – and then paying for it.
The big aid organisations, official and non-government, are right to say they have been underlining the gravity of the present emergency for months, at least from the beginning of the year. On June 7 FEWS NET (the Famine Early Warning Systems Network funded by USAID) declared that more than seven million in the Horn needed help and the ‘current humanitarian response is inadequate to prevent further deterioration.’ Two seasons of very poor rainfall had resulted ‘in one of the driest years since 1995.’ Still the world did not judge this to be the clarion call for decisive intervention.
Three weeks later, on June 28, OCHA (the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) said that more than nine million needed help and that the pastoral border zones of Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya were facing ‘one of the driest years since 1950/51.’ Six decades! Two generations! A story at last! The media mountain moved, and the NGO fund-raisers marched on behind.
I have The Times of July 5 in front of me. ‘Spectre of famine returns to Africa after the worst drought for decades,’ says the main headline in World news. On page 11 there is a half-page appeal from Save the Children illustrated with a picture of a six-week old Kenyan called Ibrahim ‘facing starvation.’ On page 17 Oxfam has its own half page saying that ‘more than 12 million people have been hit by the worst drought in 60 years.’ The Times that day also carried a Peter Brookes cartoon of a hollow-faced African framed in the map of Africa, with his mouth opened wide for food.
So, for 2011, an image of Africa has again been fixed in the western consciousness. It is an image of suffering – worse, of an impotent dependence on outsiders – that most certainly exists, but is only part of the story, even in the Horn.
The western world may understand something of the four-way colonial carve-up and the post-colonial disaster that overtook the Somali homeland, but it certainly has no proper answers to the conflicts and dislocation that lead to starvation and death. In northern Kenya, to which so many thousands of Somali pastoralists have fled in recent months, the West does have an answer of sorts – it can feed people in the world’s largest refugee camp, in the thin expectation of better times back across the border. Then there is Ethiopia, with several million of its own people needing help, its own Somali population swollen by refugees, and the country for ever associated with the terrible famine of 25 years ago which launched the modern era of aid.
Here it is possible to make some predictions. There will be no widespread death from starvation in Ethiopia, not even in its own drought-affected Somali region where an insurgency promotes insecurity and displacement. New arrangements between the Ethiopian government and the UN’s World Food Programme have insured more reliable and equitable food distribution, and the Government presses on with schemes to settle pastoralists driven by persistently poor rains from their semi-nomadic lifestyles.
The government of Meles Zenawi, which has just marked 20 years in power, has on the whole a creditable record in response to the prospect of famine.In 2003/4 the country faced a far larger food crisis than it did it in 1984, but emerged from it with very few extra deaths. In the former famine lands of the North where there is an impressive commitment to grass-roots development there is almost no chance of a retu
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